Women & Minority-owned Businesses

Master Multilingual Marketing

Master Multilingual Marketing

If you're trying to connect with customers who speak different languages, it can be difficult to craft a winning marketing plan. Learn how to create a marketing plan that will connect with a multilingual customer base.

By Maya Payne Smart

Marketing messages can fall flat even when you and your customers speak the same language. The odds of communication failure are multiplied when addressing customers who speak different languages.

Fear of translation errors and cross-cultural gaffes keep many from reaching out to prospective multilingual customers. But small businesses can't afford to ignore the growing numbers of immigrants who prefer to speak, shop and conduct business in their own languages. Today more than 300 languages are spoken in the United States, and 14 million households prefer to speak something other than English.

Implementing multilingual marketing efforts can ensure you send the right message to all of your customers.

Beyond Translation
Demographic shifts in the United States make strong and consistent multicultural outreach important in a wider range of locales than in the past, says Saul Gitlin, executive vice president of Kang & Lee, a N.Y.-based Asian multicultural marketing firm. Connecting with customers goes far beyond mere translation.

"Marketing or advertising in a target language is not reflective of the entire customer experience," Gitlin says. "That's the catalyst to get them to think about a brand, but you want them to interact with a brand and buy it. It may be easy to find someone to translate an advertisement in a language, but when the customer needs to interact with you on the phone, via the Internet or face-to-face, do you have the capability to interact with them at every touch point?"

For most small businesses, the answer is no. It's not feasible to cater to various audiences by translating all of your ads, signage and other communications into Tagalog, Hindi or Polish. Still Gitlin says even modest gestures like adding a word of welcome to a communication, sponsoring a cultural event or having one employee who speaks the target language can make a big impact. The key is to make an effort.

Communicating Culture
Getting the words right is not the No. 1 issue when marketing to customers who speak different languages, says Elizabeth Kay, president of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Fusia Communications. Her company strives to "transcreate" client marketing copy to "make sure that it's not just in language but in culture."

To craft messages that resonate with diverse audiences, you need to consult people with an intimate knowledge of the demographic. "It's not something you can read about in a book," she says.

Brand Consistency
Christa Tiefenbacher-Hudson, a managing director of TripleInk, a Minneapolis-based communications firm, says immigrant audiences in particular bring different values, experiences and knowledge to their interpretation of marketing messages. As a result, you may need to provide more background information in order to familiarize them with your products, services and professional reputation.

"You have to walk a fine line of adapting a message so it's accessible to a consumer who doesn't speak English well and having the right cultural appeal, but not really abandoning the core brand, values and attitudes," she says.

Having a common brand message in tact across languages keeps the customer experience somewhat consistent. It also prevents customers who are fluent in several languages from taking offense if drastically different messages are communicated in one language versus another.

More Information on Multilingual Marketing

American Marketing Association

American Translators Association's "Translation: Getting it Right"